Bengaluru: A three-month slide in India’s inflation rate likely ended in April due to higher energy prices, a Reuters poll found, which could intensify pressure on the central bank to hike interest rates.
A jump in the global price of oil, India’s costliest import, plus overestimated government expenditure and a sharp weakening in the rupee could cause the Reserve Bank of India to review its long-standing neutral stance.
The median forecast in the poll of nearly 30 economists was for April’s annual rate of consumer inflation to rise to 4.42 per cent from March’s 4.28 per cent.
If that is the case, April will be the sixth straight month of inflation above the RBI’s 4 per cent medium-term target. The highest forecast was 5.50 per cent. One economist saw the pace as below the RBI’s target, at 3.88 per cent, due to eased food prices.
Food and beverage inflation, accounting for nearly half of the CPI basket, fell to 2.81 per cent in March, well below 2017’s high of 4.96 per cent, in December.
Teresa John, an economist at brokerage Nirmal Bang, forecasts April inflation at 4.45 per cent. While that is below the RBI’s 4.7-5.1 per cent target for April-September, “rising oil prices and core inflation will be a concern,” she said. “It will not be very long before the central bank raises rates,” John predicted.
Minutes from RBI’s Monetary Policy Committee April 4-5 meeting showed members flagged multiple concerns, including an increase in minimum support prices for farmers and crude oil prices. On Thursday, oil prices hit multi-year highs on prospects for renewed U.S. sanctions against Iran amid an already tightening market.
A hike by October?
“We think that the recent spell of softer inflation has now come to an end,” said Shilan Shah, senior India economist at Capital Economics, adding that interest rate hikes are likely “perhaps by October but we wouldn’t rule out an earlier move”.
According to a Reuters poll in mid-April, the RBI will keep rates on hold until the first half of 2019. The Reuters poll on inflation also showed expectations that growth in industrial output likely slowed to 5.9 per cent in March, from February’s 7.1 per cent.
That slowdown was seen primarily due to sluggishness in the output of eight core industries, which account for about 40 per cent of overall production. India’s annual infrastructure output growth slowed to a three-month low of 4.1 per cent in March, due to by slower growth in coal, steel and electricity production, according to government data.
“A cyclical recovery is under way, but rising oil prices and political uncertainty suggest a higher risk premium ahead,” Nomura economists said.
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